I was born with leg problems, enough that I had to wear leg braces until 6th grade. I didn't have any problems from preschool to first grade, but transferred to the private Catholic school for 2nd thru 8th grade. (The school only allowed 40 kids per class and did not have room for me the year before because we had just moved to the area.) From the first day, I was made to feel unwelcome and verbally harassed because they wanted the girl I had "replaced" back. I was smart enough to know that I hadn't made her leave (her family had moved) but was too shy to verbalize my feelings.

At lunchtime, the first day of school, no one would talk to me and I went to play on the swingset. One of the most popular girls (and one of the first to torment me that morning) pushed me off the swings while telling me that "crippled kids weren't allowed on the swingset." My leg braces were bent and I had to go to the hospital to fix them and clean my wounds. The girl (who was to become my worst tormentor) told them that I had just fallen, and although I told them what had happened, they believed her - maybe because 'good Catholic girls' wouldn't do something like that, maybe because she had been a student longer.

I was pretty much ignored after that and had no friends. Occasionally, one of my female classmates would have a birthday party and invite every other girl in class but me, about which, of course, they would make a big deal.

In fifth grade, a new girl transferred in, was ostracized by the other girls, and she became my best (and only) friend. At about the same time, my father became our basketball coach and the other girls (who adored him) would tell me that he deserved to have a daughter who wasn't such a loser. I didn't care because I had a friend. I remember now how excited I was to actually have someone to talk to, to spend recess with, to invite on sleepovers. It sounds so pathetic now, how happy and grateful I was.

My friend lived in a subdivision with several of the more popular girls and, during the summer before 8th grade, began spending more time with them and less with me. By the time school started, she was only hanging out with them. I can't blame her really, I would have given my left arm to be accepted. I'm sure you can guess what came next, after two little girls spent three years telling each other their secrets, hopes, and dreams. She told my classmates everything and that's when the fun really started for them.

I was teased and taunted about the most personal things. One boy on the bus would harass me, grab my knees and try to slip his hand up my skirt while other students would egg him on.

High school wasn't much better. It was bigger than the grade school, so it was easier to get lost in the crowd. Most of my grade school attended my high school, so even three years later, I was still 'the crippled girl.' It was another private Catholic (college prep) school and very possibly the snobbiest place you could imagine. Everything in the school was run by the most popular clique. The same people were the star athletes/class leaders/leads in school plays/members and heads of all the groups and clubs.

When I wasn't being teased by kids I went to grade school with and their friends, I was being ignored (which I preferred). I made a friend, she was a cheerleader, so was sort-of with the in-crowd, but also such a strong individual who didn't really care what everyone else thought. Even so, it took me a very long time to actually open up to her. I hung out with a few of her friends who, although I don't feel comfortable calling them my 'friends', never picked on me or minded that I was around.

Graduation was the hugest relief for me. Our school always had a Senior Day where they would have a slideshow of pictures from the past four years with sappy music playing. I was probably the only girl who didn't cry.

I had decided to attend a small private Catholic college in a neighboring state. I know what you're thinking - more of the same thing, but I was really impressed with my visit there and how friendly the students were. My parents were afraid I'd want to come home after the first week. Only one of my high school classmates attended my college, so it was a fresh start. I joined a sorority, clubs, groups, student government - all interests I was unable to pursue in high school. My parents hardly recognized me when I went home for Christmas. I felt like I didn't start living until I was 18 years old.

I now hold a management position in an international financial company. I have an active social life and a large group of friends, some of them quite close. I have a good life, but I know there are some problems that can be attributed to the bullying. I have a hard time believing people (especially men) when they pay me a compliment, because I spent so many years hearing that I was ugly, a loser, a geek, better off dead. I became involved with men who put me down and treated me poorly. I have difficulty trusting people, even when they are sincere, because I am waiting for them to turn on me or use what I've told them against me.

I volunteer at a hospital for people with disabilities and feel more comfortable there then anywhere else. I have several younger siblings and actually became physically ill for days before and after their high school graduations when I had to return to my alma mater. If I do so much as pass a former classmate on the street, I start shaking. I can't even think about that period of my life without getting nauseated and making myself sick.

I still keep in contact with my friend from high school. She is trying to get me to go to a 15th reunion party this summer. At the 10th reunion, she tells me that many of our classmates asked about me and said that I was missed. She, still the independent spirit, told a few of them that they had treated me like crap and made my life a living hell, so why would I want to come back and relive all that?

After many years of denial, many years not wanting to be a whiner and blame everyone else for my problems, I have begun to realize, with some help, that some of my problems ARE the fault of others. Some are related to my own inabilities and flaws as a human, but others are related to the way I was treated in my most formative years.

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